12 Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and .........

12 Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and ......... -...

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Contemporary Sociological Theory Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and the Emergence of Postmodern Social Theory The concept of modern social theory presents the possibility of a postmodern social theory. Indeed, postmodernism has had wide-ranging effects on a number of disciplines, including sociology. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of postmodernism, it is necessary to think of postmodern social theory rather than postmodern sociological theory, with the basic distinction resting on the various sources of input in social theory. Structuralism Structuralism emerged from a reaction against the humanism of Jean-Paul Sartre's (1905-1980) existentialism. Sartre assailed the idea of structures that overly determine the behavior of individuals, of having actors without agency. Structuralism emerged in the 1960s, and was based on the work of Ferdinand de Saussure(1857-1913) . Saussure's work was oriented to understanding the structures underlying languages. Thus, structuralism is associated with the linguistic turn. Saussure focused on the relationship between the formal, grammatical system of language ( langue ) and the everyday usage of language ( parole ). Parole was of little interest to linguists, who should be concerned with understanding the determinant laws that govern langue . Langue is conceptualized as a system of signs whereby each sign may be understood by its relationships to other signs within the system. This system of signs is a structure, a structure that affects society by shaping relationships of signs within the system and our understanding of the world. Saussure focused on the creation of difference, particularly through binary oppositions (e.g., hot/cold) , which have meaning only in relation to one another. The idea of semiotics extended the analysis of sign systems to various dimensions of the social world. Structuralism also influenced anthropology and Marxism. In the former case, the work of Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-) exhibits this influence. Levi-Strauss attempted to extend structuralism to anthropology, focusing on communication. He reinterpreted social phenomena for their effects on communication. Structural Marxism took from structuralism an interest in the historical origins of structures, but continued to focus on social and economic structures. Poststructuralism Poststructuralism loosened the moorings underlying systems of signs. Rather than seeing stable relationships of signs, they saw chaotic and highly variable context-dependent systems. In their view, such structures could not have the coercive power over individuals that the structuralists attributed to them. Jacques Derrida(1930-) , perhaps the originator of poststructuralism, has argued against the notion of logocentrism. By logocentrism Derrida meant the coercive, limiting effects of the search for universal systems of thought that would reveal "truth." Instead, Derrida attempts to deconstruct, or uncover, hidden differences that underlie logocentrism. At the heart
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12 Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and ......... -...

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